The Monster Book of Manga: Steampunk
Paperback | Kindle
Edited by Jorge Balaguer
Release date: February 24, 2015
There’s an old adage, still in use in this day and age, about not judging a book by its cover. It happens to be true. This writer can attest to many a dusty, worn tome that has yielded much more than he assessed at first glance on the shelves of his local library or used bookstore. The great thing about that old adage is that it applies to both sides of the coin; there are also a lot of books out there that promise much on the outside but tend to disappoint once you’ve delved deeper.
For those who have read my articles before, you know that I am an inveterate – and unapologetic – fan of anime and manga, and I am always eager to investigate any resource that purports to teach either the history of – or techniques surrounding – the genres of manga and anime. I’ve been a fan of both genres since before it was considered cool, when the only way you could learn to draw the style was to pick up a pencil and a sketchbook and copy of one’s favorite manga (or, if one was lucky enough, one of the various art books from overseas) and draw freehand from what you saw on the pages.
The growth in popularity of anime and manga over the last fifteen to twenty years has led to a lot of artists in the western hemisphere who have embraced the style and sought to make it their own. Probably the two western artists that come to mind immediately are Adam Warren, whose take on The Dirty Pair was nothing short of brilliant, and Madeleine Rosca, whose work Hollow Fields is truly authentic in her grasp of not only the visual elements, but the storyline, pacing, backgrounds, and other elements that comprise the manga genre.
My point is, manga’s become very popular in the western world, and a lot of budding artists here want to learn to capture it for themselves and make it their own. This has led to a plethora of how-to style books, some of which are veritable fountains of inspiration and knowledge, and others that perhaps promise too much.
And so we come to the case of The Monster Book of Manga: Steampunk. Edited by illustrator Jorge Balaguer, this 319-page work is hyped as a guidebook for creating the thirty-nine full color steampunk characters gracing its pages. The book is intended to teach the elements that go to creating your own steampunk-style characters in what I’d best describe as a pseudo-manga style, or at least serve as a visual guide to incorporating some of the elements into your own illustrations.
To be fair, Mr. Balaguer does a good job of describing, in brief form, how he builds the figure drawings up from the bare bones to full realization. I personally like how some of the drawings look in black-and-white, before the color is added. However, there are two issues I have with this book: First, I think that Mr. Balaguer would have done better to have used fewer characters – say, picking out the best fifteen – and devoting a few more pages each to describing, in greater detail, how he builds the illustrations up from stick figure to full realization. Second – and this is the formal illustration and graphic design student in me coming to the fore – Mr. Balaguer and his editors and art directors would have done budding manga artists here a greater service by devoting some pages, either in the front or back, to such equally important elements as backgrounds, perspective, shading, lighting, anatomy, and most importantly, storytelling, at least in some brief form.
The Monster Book of Manga: Steampunk retails for $25.99. If you’re willing to buy it, it would make a good beginner’s book. But be prepared to shell out more for other educational books as well – some of which will probably cost just as much or less, and deliver a lot more in the long run – if you really want to learn how to render your own illustrations in a manga style.
However, I personally cannot recommend this book. There are too many other works out there that are more comprehensive in their scope, like Antarctic Press’s How to Draw Manga series that can teach you a lot more about being a good manga artist than this book will. That old adage about judging a book by its cover has never been truer, at least when it comes to this particular tome.